Serbia and Albania
Dimitrije Tucović, 1881-1914.
In Albania, Austria-Hungary and Italy are conducting a policy of aggression, that is a fact. Is Austria-Hungary, constructed entirely on the denial of national rights, or is Italy, today throttling another nation on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, really defending the national principle? In the age of imperialist policy, such slogans are as ill-suited to these two capitalist states as the Russian slogan of the "liberation of the Christians" in Turkey once was to Tsarist Russia when it was the greatest oppressor of freedom at home and abroad. These political lies no longer fare so well, even among the Balkan peoples, who have learnt through experience that every alliance with one or other "protector" has cost them heavily, the more so as they, in their boundless longing for liberation from the Turkish yoke, abandoned themselves with such devotion to their protectors. In Albania itself, all the elements working for the autonomy of their country are aware of this. One of the most influential men in Elbasan, later chosen as governor of that town, did not hesitate to answer my questions absolutely clearly and openly: Austria-Hungary wants Shkodër to stay in Albania so that it can continue to be the northernmost guard on watch against the penetration of Serbia and Montenegro into its sphere of influence, just as Italy is interceding in favor of southern Albania, so that no one else can establish himself on the other side of the Straits of Otranto. The unyielding support of Austria-Hungary and Italy for the autonomy of Albania is about saving the last foot of land with which to protect themselves from the danger of anyone else gaining access to the Adriatic Sea, and from which they can influence the flow of events in the Balkans. Furthermore, Austria-Hungary wants "lebensfähige Albanie." "an Albania capable of living" at the very moment that it sees before it the danger that Serbia may become capable of living. The aim of this policy is as clear as day. No matter what, they want a new pygmy in the Balkans incapable of living, so that another pygmy that has been striving to break its chains does not become capable of living. This is the old method of creating a weak state, incapable of living, condemned to cling to the coat-tails of European diplomacy, regardless of whether this appears under the false label of "national principles" or "balance of power politics."
But if the concern of Austria's rulers for the right of all the Balkan peoples to national self-determination is a terrible clowning around with the national principle, the pretensions of Serbia to the conquest of Albania are a crude violation, and a trampling underfoot of that same principle. By proclaiming this policy, the Serbian bourgeoisie has now for the first time removed from the face of the Serbian people the veil of an oppressed nation struggling for its liberation. As their former youthful ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood have disappeared, they have lost the capacity to respect the desire of nations for freedom. Our bourgeoisie bends under the pressure of its northern neighbors, clings tightly to the coat-tails of Russian diplomacy, and borrows the means by which it rules from foreign capitalist companies. It has acquired the ideology of an exploiter and a proprietor that sees itself at the head of a hungry army, and as the master of several million oppressed subjects; it dreams of greatness and bristles; it appeals only to force and throttles those weaker than itself at the same time that it too is threatened with the danger of being strangled by stronger forces. But as this turnaround in the policy of our bourgeoisie, which had to come sooner or later as the result of capitalist production, appeared before the Serbian people had achieved total national unification, so that Serbia's rulers have begun to use the political division and enslavement of their own nation to justify their appetites to enslave other nations, this is just proof that the capitalist economy of profit and the bourgeois military-bureaucratic state system give rise to the same appetites among the small as among the great representatives of today's social order at home and abroad, in domestic as well as in foreign policy.
This new course in the policy of the Serbian bourgeoisie has more than a theoretical significance for Social Democracy. Not only is it confirmation of our viewpoint that the national ideals of the ruling classes are a lie behind which is hidden the desire to exploit their people at home and enslave nations abroad. The national liberation and unification it seeks for its own nation the capitalist bourgeoisie denies to other nations. From its class viewpoint, this is natural and understandable: when my own people find themselves under my class rule, why do you "savage" Albanians resist joining what is according to all the laws of the modern state an organized and ready-made system of submission? The foreign policy of the ruling classes is but the continuation of their domestic policy. And just as the proletariat in a certain country represents the one social class which cannot struggle for freedom from class slavery without freeing the whole of society, so Social Democracy cannot advocate freedom for its own people without advocating national freedom for all other nations. In this lies one of the fundamental differences between the viewpoint of Social Democracy and the bourgeois parties on the national question.
But the great practical significance of this question has to interest us all the more because the consequences of the aggressive exertions of our rulers represent an inexhaustible source, not only of new atrocities against the Albanian population, but also of constant danger for the peace and tranquility of our people, and of endless burdens and sacrifices. Serbia has been pushed into the maelstrom of the struggle of aggressive ambitions which has all manner of foreseeable and unforeseeable obstacles and currents, a maelstrom in which the energy of the people will be exhausted in futile efforts to seize the coast. New and even greater efforts will be made in order to overcome every new obstacle, and the sacrifices which the masses are finding all the heavier to bear will be justified by those that have already been made. The conquering invasion of Albania has given birth to the bitterness of the Albanian people towards Serbia and to revolts, and revolts impose new financial and military pressures; insecurity on the western border of Serbia has appeared as the consequence of the aggressive policy towards the Albanian people, and is the reason for the army's constant state of readiness; for the same reason we have come into conflict with stronger pretenders to Albania, and in the delirium of creating a great Adriatic state by subjugating other nations, our rulers preach some great future settling of accounts with them. Having mortgaged the country, new state burdens, militarism and other parasitic institutions are seeking from the people still greater sacrifices, the more they are being strangled materially and exhausted economically by perpetual insecurity, by the danger of war and by frequent mobilizations.
That is how the rush of events will finally, by force of the internal logic of things, push our exhausted little country from crisis to crisis, from danger to danger, while all the bourgeois organs of public opinion will try to ensure that the true cause of these misfortunes is forgotten and that the responsibility for them is transferred to others. For this reason, Social Democracy, as the one resolute opponent of the aggressive policy which is the cause of all these misfortunes, cannot allow the moment to pass unrecorded when our ruling class made a grab for other countries and for the freedoms of others, when the former heralds of national liberation took up the banner of national oppression, and when the interests of capital swallowed up the interests of the nation. We must constantly point to the indissoluble causal link between the aggressive policy of the bourgeoisie and the heavy consequences and losses whose end is nowhere in sight.
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The Balkan Peninsula is a mixture of nations with intertwined historical memories. Some parts of the peninsula, which in these historical memories represent self-contained regions, have been entangled with one another and lie across each other's natural paths of cultural and trading links with the world. This is particularly true of its central regions, "Old Serbia" [Kosova] and Macedonia, the regions that make up the main part of the Turkish inheritance of the Balkan statelets. Thus, when by the efforts of the masses Turkish rule was pushed out of these regions, the ruling circles of the Balkan statelets stepped forward with their fists full of plans for the division of the newly-won regions on the basis of historical and national rights and of economic and political necessities. But here lies the problem: that division was not possible without trampling on the national principle, without endangering the state's existence and damaging real economic interests as well as imagined and outlived historical rights. For example, as the natural entry point to the Balkans, Salonika is needed by everyone, but Salonika is one and indivisible. The trading and transport axis of the Balkans, without which Salonika would not be what it is, is undoubtedly the Vardar valley, and it too is one and indivisible. In this same way, the borders of the medieval kingdoms often moved and overlapped, and as a result the historical pretensions of the Balkan statelets are also in irreconcilable antagonism. Who is then able to establish at all where the borders of the Serbian and Bulgarian nations start and finish? How is it possible to gather the Macedonian Slavs into one national community without oppressing the Greeks and other nations? How is it possible to gather the Greeks of Thrace into one national state without oppressing the Turks, and without cutting Bulgaria's links with the Bulgarians around Salonika and further on to Kostur?
These are just a few indications of the great number of real and imagined questions and true and false interests, which have, with the destruction of Turkish power, poured out like water from a broken pot, and which could only have been satisfactorily resolved by the creation of a new union. Opened up by the destruction of one whole, these questions could have been peacefully and satisfactorily resolved only within a new whole of a higher form. This was, incontestably, the only road which would have led not to war, but rather to rapprochement, freedom, strength and general progress in the Balkans, not to mention the great significance of avoiding fratricidal war. In general, a union of nations in the Balkans is the solution to the complex Balkan Question from which all the Balkan peoples would gain the most favorable conditions for peaceful and successful development in the future. Only the creation of a new union in place of the Turkish rule that was overthrown could have protected long-lost national freedoms from once again being drowned in a bloody internecine tug-of-war over the newly-won territories, which is the greatest misfortune for the freedom of the Balkan peoples. With the thieving plunder of the newly-conquered territories, this freedom was throttled before it was born, which gives historical confirmation to the viewpoint of Social Democracy that the national liberation of the Balkan nations is not possible without the unification of the whole Balkans into one general union. Such a union of peoples would, at the same time, liberate all the nations and regions of the Balkan Peninsula from the mutual crowding and obstruction which numerous frontiers tend to create, and would open free access to the sea for all. The Balkans would become one vast economic territory in which modern economic life would receive a boost, and each part of the region would be guaranteed freedom of movement and fulfillment of its economic needs, as well as the means for more rapid economic development in general. The true economic emancipation of the Balkan nations lies in the economic union of the Balkans. And with the unification of political forces and economic progress, the Balkan peoples would be able to resist the aggressive pretensions of the European capitalist states.
If there is a political reality in the Balkans, it is the necessity for a union of the Balkan nations. Belief in that necessity springs from observing the real situation in the Balkan Peninsula, like reading any open book that precisely outlines our future. The only realistic policy of the Balkan statelets is one that takes this idea as its guiding principle.
As an act in the great Balkan drama which is closely linked to preceding and subsequent developments, Serbia's campaign of aggression in Albania is the crudest deviation from the principle of the union of the Balkan nations, and a deviation paid for with the most striking defeat. In addition to that tangled web of historical, ethnographic and political relations which envelops disputes in Macedonia, the reasons behind such an act express most clearly the tendencies of the Balkan policy of the bourgeoisie. This act nakedly exposes the intolerance of the ruling classes towards other nations, and the aggressive ambitions and the readiness of the bourgeoisie to carry them out with the most brutal crimes, such as have until now only been committed in overseas colonies. The abandonment of the principle of the union of Balkan nations, even when agreement was reached on common action against Turkey, has driven us to batter and crush one another in vain in the ravines of Albania. And driven out of there, we were thrown into a mad and barbaric slaughter with our brothers at Bregalnica [where Serbia and Greece defeated Bulgaria in 1913].
One error attracted another, and one defeat led to another. That is how the "realistic" policy of [Serbian prime minister] Nikola Pašić (1845-1926) has been sealed with two very real defeats: in Albania and at Bregalnica. And while there is the desire to justify the Albanian adventure by the fact that we have been cut off from Salonika, and the crime of Bregalnica by the fact that we were driven out of Albania, then we have to emphasize that the cause of both evils is one and the same, namely, the aggressive ambitions of the bourgeoisie and the ruling cliques and leaders in the Balkans and their inability to replace their limited separatist interests with the principle of union which many of their representatives once used to advocate.
Serbia's aggressive approach towards the Albanian people in particular has provided yet more experience of the great danger which every conflict between the Balkan nations represents for one side and the other. At the same time, it has also shown how the policy of the ruling classes creates hatred between nations.
Today it has become very risky to advocate the need for collaboration with the Albanians. In a dangerous contest to justify a wrong policy, the bourgeois press has created a whole pack of untrue and tendentious ideas about the Albanians, while Serbia's policy of conquest, with its barbaric methods, was bound to fill the Albanians with the deepest hatred for us. Yet there has never been such hatred before. The Serbian and Albanian tribes, as can be seen from the accounts of Marko Miljanov, lived in close contact with each other under Turkey. They were linked by very great social kinship, expressed by many common customs, traditions and memories, such as many joint actions against the Turkish authorities; frequently blood kinship also existed. According to what Miljanov noted among the people, the Kuči, Belopavljići, Hoti, Piperi and Klimenti [Kelmendi] had not always represented two tribal groups, the Albanian and the Montenegrin, divided into two hostile camps, but had often stood on the same side against the invading enemy. As proof that memories of those close relations lived on among the Albanian people, there is an Albanian saying Dositej Obradović recorded during his travels in Albania: "We were once one clan and tribe with the Serbs."
Many factors and events have since led to a situation where, in place of neighborly relations and feelings of kinship, intolerance and enmity are beginning to spread. What contributed most to this development was the systematic implementation of Constantinople's policy of divide and rule, and the behavior of Serbia and Montenegro towards the Albanian population during the wars with Turkey.
If anyone had the right conditions to work in agreement with the Albanians, Montenegro and Serbia did. Not only did they have mixed populations and the kinship of neighboring tribes, but also their mutual interests pointed these two nations to agreement and friendly relations. Just as the road to the Adriatic Sea runs across modest Albanian settlements, Albanian ties with the interior of the peninsula lead across Serbian borders. Just as we need the sea, they need land even more. If our worries over our exports point us towards the Albanians, their worries over bread point them towards us. If these two sides cannot agree, they will crowd out and throttle one another.
But all hopes of a policy of agreement and friendship were dashed on this occasion much more by one overbearing act of conquest by Serbia than by the crudeness of the Albanian tribes. Serbia did not enter Albania as a brother, but as a conqueror. Moreover, it did not enter as a politician either, but as a brutal soldier. Behind the brutality of military practice, the politician could not be seen. In fact, he had only one thought which was contained in the order: "Go and conquer!" Subjugate or perish! Given a policy that did not serve human beings, tribes, or the people, and given the natural desire of Albania to gain its independence, Serbia lost every contact with the representatives of the Albanian people, and pushed them into a terrible hatred for all things Serbian. If the Albanian people have not until now represented one national whole which could take an interest in and give life to one idea, that common idea is today, regrettably, the general national revolt of the Albanian population against the barbaric behavior of their neighbors, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, a revolt that is a great step forward in the national awakening of the Albanians.
Relying exclusively on the army, which has no understanding of these questions, the Serbian government, delirious with cravings for conquest and deluded by foreign influence, did not even know how to exploit its half-year rule in northern Albania with a single act which would have left some trace and soothed wounds. It did not know how to do this, even at the final moment when the question of Albanian autonomy had already matured. The masses yearned for liberation from the poverty of the peasant condition, but for such revolutionary acts only Napoleon's revolutionary army had any understanding. The more educated layers among the Albanians did not hide their uncompromising attachment to the idea of autonomy from Serbia, but what every English Conservative would know how to assess politically was too much by far for the Serbian Radicals. They pushed on towards the sea by force. Serbia entered Albania as an enemy, and it left as an enemy.
The boundless hostility of the Albanian people towards Serbia is the first concrete result of the Albanian policy of the Serbian government. The second, still more dangerous, result is the consolidation in Albania of two of the Great Powers who have the greatest interest in the Balkans. This represents yet more proof that every internecine animosity between the Balkan peoples only benefits their common enemy. The aggressive attitude of Serbia, Greece and Montenegro could not prevent the creation of the autonomy of Albania, but this pushed the youngest pygmy in the Balkans, even prior to its appearance before the world, to deliver itself up to the mercies of Austria-Hungary and Italy. This fact is of great danger for peace and for the free development of Serbia. It is clear that this danger does not come in any way from the fact that an autonomous Albania was created, but rather that it was created in the struggle against the aggressive desires of the neighboring Balkan statelets, that it was in fact taken from them by the intervention of Austria-Hungary and Italy, and that it has in this way been tied so strongly to these two states. Where friendship was needed, both sides have been overcome by terrible hostility, while friendly contacts are being consolidated between two parties, one of whom is already condemned to be the other's victim.
The two concrete results of the aggressive policy of Serbia towards the Albanian people have both been felt by the state's finances and our economic development, but mostly by those tens of thousands of slaves who are perishing in the Albanian mountains. They have been dispatched to the border to stop with their lives the wave of bitterness which has been provoked by the policy of aggression of our rulers, and to guard the country from the danger into which on this occasion it has been drawn. The chains with which the bourgeoisie wished to shackle other nations have cramped the freedom of its own country and its own people.
Finally, there is a desire to justify the campaign of aggression in Albania with false theories about the incapacity of the Albanians for national development. The very real and, regretfully, evil consequences of that campaign have exposed to the whole nation the incapacity of the ruling classes to conduct a policy which is in the national interest. What results will flow from the struggle for autonomy in Albania is a separate question to which only the future can provide an accurate reply, but the comprehensive and costly defeat of the policy of aggression of our bourgeoisie which fought against autonomy stands before us as an accomplished fact and rings out with fine historical irony over the theory of the national "incapacity" of the Albanians. But since the defeat of the policy of aggression has not brought to an end the string of dangers and sacrifices that threaten the freedom of the Serbian people and the future of Serbia, it is at the very least now necessary to look truth in the face and, setting aside all prejudices, recognize that the struggle that the Albanian people are today conducting is a natural, inevitable historical struggle for a different political life from the one they had under Turkey, and different from the one imposed on them by their ruthless neighbors, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. A free Serbian people must value and respect that struggle as much for the freedoms of the Albanians as for their own, and deny every government the means to carry out a policy of aggression.
As the representative of the proletariat which has never been the lackey of the aggressive policy of the ruling classes, Social Democracy is duty bound to track step by step our rulers' policy of extermination towards the Albanians, to stigmatize as barbaric a policy carried out on the false pretext of a "higher culture" as the class policy of the bourgeoisie which greatly damages the class interests of the proletariat, and as an anti-national policy of aggression which brings the peace and freedom of the country into danger and which greatly worsens the position of the masses. Against this policy, Social Democracy raises its own slogan: the political and economic union of all the peoples of the Balkans, including the Albanians, on the basis of full democracy and the fullest equality.
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, Balkan Muslims, European Muslims, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Muslim-Christian Relations receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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